Binga women dare the mighty Zambezi River for a living

The cold breeze that sweeps the shores of the Zambezi River every evening has failed to deter 10 brave women, who take turns to go ‘hunting’ in the dark waters for fish. The creaky canoe that they have pet named “Rigi” breaks the stillness of the night.

Binga fishing co-op: no place for the faint-hearted.
Binga fishing co-op: no place for the faint-hearted.

Gracia Mudimba (37), Sarudzai Mumpande (30) and Vaines Mwembe (31)former a co-operative after realizing that they were more likely to succeed as a group than individually.

Bbindawuko Banakazi came into existence in September 2011 with 10 female and three male workers.

“We realized that we cannot work alone and we need gender balance. So we decided to employ men workers,” said Mudimba. “Since its inception, the group has managed to acquire a generator and our own canoe, although it’s not exactly new. We get between $3, 500 and $4, 000 monthly. Because we are just starting and we have not established a viable market for our products, we agreed on a monthly allowance for our members instead of salaries.”

Mumpande said each member takes home a monthly allowance of $150 to $200 but the group members are determined to earn more than this.

“The challenge is that there is only one fish market where we can sell – Siachilaba. Because there are a lot of people selling their fish, the prices are not very good. Most of the sellers are poachers who did not have licenses,” she said.

“Our operations on the Zambezi River are legal because we have a fishing permit so we are in good books with the Parks and Wildlife Authority, although we sometimes differ on the timetables,” she said.

Mudimba said fishing is a laborious job and not for the faint hearted. One has to be a very good swimmer lest they topple into the waters of the crocodile infested river.

“There is no time to be whining because this is nature that we are dealing with. We do not fish on the shores or edges of the river because we are not allowed and you hardly get anything tangible. The ‘rigi’ can carry a maximum of five people and for each trip there are three women fishers and two men, the driver and the mechanic – just in case the engine fails,” she said, adding that; “We take with us the generator for light, to allure the fish”. “We go deep into the river and cast our nets at least 20 to 30 meters deep together with the light bulb. We then wait at least two hours before hauling our nets onto the canoe then we put our catch in crates.”

The process is repeated four or five times. On a good day, the women get 185 to 190 kg of fresh kapenta which equates to about 60 kg when dried. The group does its own label printing and packaging.

“We buy salt and oil for drying the fish, and petrol for the generator from our profits and we realized the importance of minimizing costs. One kg of kapenta costs $5; 500g costs $3 and 250g $1,50 respectively. For breams, the prices vary according to the size,” she said. The women have been promised help by the Ministry of Small to Medium Enterprises and the Ministry of Women Affairs to advertise and sell their products. “We need help because Binga is very far and for us to be travelling to either Harare or Bulawayo with our fish is costly,” said Mudimba.

Vongai Matonhodza from the Self Help Development Foundation said many women’s groups need assistance in market identification.

“Our organisation assists women entrepreneurs in identifying possible markets. We train them with relevant knowledge and skills and try to link them to markets, but there are many challenges,” she said.

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